A group of teenagers gets together to have a party at the site where two of their friends went missing the year before. Naturally, things go from bad to worse very quickly.
Weak game. Wish I hadn’t bought it.
Play It If
- you really love B-rated slasher movies
- like really, really love them
- you can’t handle gore (seriously)
- you want something that’s going to scare you deep down to your core
I love playable movies. There. I said it.
I love games that require skills, but I also love games that are essentially a movie that I get to shape. Heavy Rain was my introduction to the genre, and I’ve been hooked ever since. It was only natural that I pick up Until Dawn, since it was one of those “your decisions matter” games. And I’d heard lots of great things about it from a variety of (now forgotten) sources.
I was so confident that it would get me going that I actually bought it full-price. I hardly ever buy games new, but I was just so excited that I couldn’t wait any longer. Boy howdy, I wish I’d just gotten this one from the library or something. I hate that I spent money on it, and especially hate that I spent so much money on it.
Let’s walk through the reasons that this was one of my biggest gaming disappointments to date, shall we?
First off, the story is weak. A big group of college kids gets together to party in a cabin out in the boonies, and two of their number disappear. A year later, to mark the anniversary of this tragic event, the remaining members of the group decide to go back to the creepy cabin where their friends probably died.
I understand that the game is supposed to be a playable slasher film and most B-rated horror movies have a premise that no sane person would take part in. I really, truly get that. So, I’ll look past the fact that it’s really freaking weird and twisted that these friends would go up to the mountain to “party like porn stars” (wish that wasn’t a direct quote) where their friends disappeared. It’s crazy, but whatever. I want to play a scary game and to get in a scary situation, some bad decisions are going to have to be made.
Aside from that, though, the story is loose and poorly constructed. It feels like the developers were so focused on making the story change to suit the player’s actions that they forgot to construct a story worth acting in. The pacing is inconsistent and often far too slow, there are more red herrings than actual plot lines, and the amount of loose ends is, frankly, ridiculous. This game has so many horror tropes thrown in that it comes across as unfinished and recklessly thrown together. There are monsters, an abandoned insane asylum, ancient Indian burial grounds, psychopaths, gore, and ghosts. But they fail to connect. All these elements are distinct and never come together for any kind of satisfying explanation or resolution.
And don’t even get me started on the heavy-handed symbolism. OMG HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT? LIKE, SO COOL! YOUR DECISIONS AFFECT THE GAME — JUST LIKE BUTTERFLIES AFFECT WEATHER! WE’LL PUT BUTTERFLIES ON EVERYTHING AND POINT THEM OUT EVERY CHANCE WE GET SO YOU DON’T FORGET! BUTTERFLIEEEEEES!
To add to the train wreck that is the lack of story, the characters are annoying and unlikeable. Again, looking past the fact that they’re weird and stupid for returning to the site of their friends’ disappearances, they’re so boring. Each one is a caricature of a college student, written by someone who has never spoken to an actual college student.
Even by the end of the game, I didn’t really care about any of the characters. I was mildly sad when they died, but only mildly. I just never felt attached to any of them, despite the hours I spent playing with and as them. Sometimes I was even relieved, because it meant I wouldn’t have to hear their stupid dialog anymore.
Last, but certainly not least, there is an extreme lack of scariness to this game. I’m a big, fat scaredy-cat, but I didn’t find the game scary, despite all of the hype. There are scary moments, for sure, but they are all jump-scare type things. There’s no real psychological horror to any of it. When I turned the game off for the night, that was it. I wasn’t thinking about it unless I was in it. And more often than not, I wasn’t scared in it, either.
A big component of this was the amount of body horror and gore present throughout the game. I find gore disgusting, but not scary. The sheer amount of extremely graphic gore was obviously supposed to disturb me, but it didn’t. I didn’t want to look at it and often turned my head, but not because I was scared. I was just afraid I was going to throw up.
I wanted a game that was going to frighten me. I wanted something that I would have to set down sometimes and come back to later because it simply became too overwhelming. I wanted something that I couldn’t help but think about when I was alone in the house and the lights were off. But that just didn’t happen. Zero psychological horror.
Are There Any Good Points?
I will say this about Until Dawn: The graphics are stellar. The characters models are gorgeously done and the attention to detail is spectacular. The cabin and surrounding mountain are so beautifully realistic that it’s easy to get lost in them, and sometimes I forgot I was playing a game instead of watching a movie. It’s gorgeous.
But that’s not all I want from a modern game. Yes, great graphics are wonderful to have and I appreciate them, but they don’t mean shit if there’s not something interesting they’re portraying.
I was obviously not Until Dawn‘s target audience, because it totally missed the mark. I did not like it and so wish I could have my time and money back. If you want to play it, borrow it from a friend or rent it out from the library. But don’t say I didn’t warn you to stay away.